Category Archives: stephen king

French Fry Diary 533: My Gluten-Free Lunch at the Royal Court

Planes

Planes ~ I was hesitant to jump back into the ‘World of Cars,’ because of the revelation I made while watching Cars 2, you know, that the ‘World of Cars’ is actually occurring in the aftermath of Stephen King’s short story “Trucks.” I know, scared the crap outta me too. But The Bride wanted to see it, so I went along.

This one is similar to Cars 2, in that it’s about racing, and in this case, planes. Dusty Clodhopper – voiced by Dane Cook, who is much less annoying when all you hear is scripted and you don’t have to see him – is a small town cropduster who wants to be a racing plane in the big leagues and enters a race around the world. Underdog makes good, that kind of thing.

We have seen this before. Good voice cast, lots of clichés with fresh takes, and jokes for the kids and the adults, Planes is a good hour and a half of harmless entertainment. There’s nothing really new, nothing to make us go wow, or how did they do that? A good Pixar flick, originally made for direct-to-DVD, so to do so well in theaters, it must have something. Enjoyable.

Re-Reading The Shining

I am reading “The Shining” again for the first time in thirty-five, thirty-six years. Amazing how far author Stephen King has come, and so odd to see simple wording and point of view errors he would never make today. It is also something to marvel to read a simpler King, but also what may be a more sinister King.

Back in 1977, I started reading the big hardcover version of “The Shining” first, which my mom had borrowed from my book enabling big sister. It seemed like a historical romance from that cover, almost giving off a “Dallas,” “Dynasty” or sweeping John Michener vibe. There was the big hotel on the front (and back) cover looking almost similar to Tara from Gone with the Wind, painted images of the man, the woman, and the child, and the hedge animals. My sister needed her copy back, so then I bought the paperback at the local grocery store. That was a gray book with a blank boy’s face on it, and that’s the copy I still have today.

I remember plowing through it rather quickly, on the front porch swing during the days, and in bed before sleep, which defiantly came. This was King’s third book, chronologically at least, and I’m pretty sure I knew he was something special even then, that he was subversively teaching me writing skills and techniques. All that and he was a joy to read.

And what attracted me most of all, was that he wrote about writers. There’s the interviewer in “Carrie,” Ben Mears in “‘Salem’s Lot,” and now Jack Torrence. I could relate, and now I was hooked for a lifetime. Both my own and King’s, as writers would continue as protagonists and even antagonists for dozens of novels to follow, notably the nebulously aligned Harold Lauder in my favorite King novel, “The Stand.”

The young Stephen King plays fast and loose with perspective and point of view I’ve noticed. As an editor (and yes, I know how presumptuous this is), there are more than a few things I would have corrected in the book regarding POV. Let’s just say, he did get better. Much better, or at least as good as one of the best selling novelists of our era can be.

Young Danny’s perspective and understanding of things is a puzzle of complexity. Does he know and understand because of his psychic abilities? Or does he for the sake of storytelling? King walks a very fine line here, most times opting for the latter, and weaving a tighter more terrifying tale for the reader.

There is one difference I noticed in my Nook copy of “The Shining” however. The word REDRUM written in a graphic in my original paperback copy of the book, but not in my Nook copy. It was missed. Back in the day, tricks like that, raised and/or cut out covers, or the multiplying flies above chapters in “The Amityville Horror,” made books in the late 1970s a little bit more special.

There is also the matter of Jack Torrence’s alcoholism. At the time “The Shining” was released the public was unaware of King’s own struggles with old devil drink. This fact in retrospect lends a frightening realism to what was already horrific in the book. We knew King was a teacher, spent time in Colorado, but now, we can’t help but wonder… was he abusive as well? Dare I ask – did he harm his wife and family? Just how autobiographical is “The Shining”?

King has always made the distinction with Stanley Kubrick ‘s film version, that he had written a book about a haunted house, but the director made a movie about domestic violence. What if he protest-eth too much? What if King insisted on that because Kubrick hit too close to home? My intent is not to make accusations, mind you, but to report the extra dimension facts about the author’s life bring to the work. It certainly made some of it uncomfortable to read.

The sequel to “The Shining” has been a rumor that has floated around for years. It became just a little bit more real when Kung finally gave it a name, “Doctor Sleep.” When he wrote it and announced a release date, then things got hot. “Doctor Sleep” is scheduled for release today, and there’s also a preview at the end of my Nook copy of “The Shining” as well.

James Herbert 1943-2013

Stephen King may have always been the king of horror since his emergence in the mid-seventies, but for a while at the same time, there was one man who outsold King in horror in the UK. I discovered James Herbert around 1980, and found him to be a suitable rival to King. Where King took his time, Herbert seemed to go right for the jugular. He was a similar writer but with a more canny sense of the horrific and the repulsive – a true master of the genre.

His books, The Fog (unrelated to the James Carpenter film), The Rats and its sequels, and especially The Dark were early influences on my writing just as much as King in that genre. He was extremely prolific, pumping out a book a year during the 1980s and slowing down as the years went on.

Author James Herbert passed away yesterday at the age of 69. The man will be missed, but his work will live on. If you’re a fan of King, I urge you to seek out Herbert’s books, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised, and horrified.

The Initiation of Sarah 2006

The Initiation of Sarah ~ The original came at the tail end of the great ABC telemovies of the 1970s. In it, Kay Lenz, who I always mixed up with Susan Dey, plays the Carrie part in this Carrie rip-off. Morgan Fairchild is chief tormentor and Shelley Winters the witchy housemother mentor. There were a few of these Carrie wannabes in the 1970s, The Spell with Susan Meyers from “James at 15” was another, that aped the mousy scapegoat girl, who also happens to have telekinetic powers, flipping out in her tormentors. Sarah took place at a college sorority as opposed to high school.

The 2006 version is a re-imagining of the 1978 movie of the week done for, believe it or not, the ABC Family Channel. Well, at least they’re keeping it in the ‘family.’ Yeah, I know, sorry. Here, Morgan Fairchild returns as the snooty mom of two girls about to enter college, and join her old exclusive sorority. Lindsay, played by a post-“Firefly” Summer Glau and mousey cutter Sarah played by Mika Boorem of Blue Crush, are, as one would expect, polar opposites.

It is essentially the same story, with a decidedly non-fun Jennifer Tilly in the Shelley Winters role, but it has become unnecessarily complicated, almost as if someone was watching nothing but “Buffy” and old soap operas for a couple weeks straight. The warring sororities are the guardians of good and evil, people pretend to be other people to sleep with them, and it gets worse from there.

I wanted to like this one, I really did. It could have been the good old campy fun the original was but just took itself too seriously, and too much ABC Family as well, adding a crapload of teenage melodrama to the mix. Avoid and look for the original.

Biff Bam Pop!’s 31 Days of Horror

If you’ve been to the Biff Bam Pop! website, you know that other than the regular pop culture features, we’re all big horror fans there. Special for this month of October, and culminating today on Halloween is 31 Days of Horror.

31 Days of Horror takes a look at the past and present in horror movies, both in front of and behind the camera, horror television, horror comics, and even horror videogames.

Highlights include reviews of The Shining, The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Monster Squad, 28 Days Later, Freaks, Night of the Living Dead, The Ring, Sinister, Nightbreed, Prometheus, Paranormal Activity 4, Evil Dead, 30 Ghosts, Tomb of Dracula, Dexter The Game, “666 Park Avenue,” episode by episode analysis of the new seasons of “American Horror Story” and “The Walking Dead,” and interviews with Danielle Harris and Richard Crouse. It’s the best way to celebrate Halloween!

Oh, and if you just want to read my stuff on the site, I’m here. Happy Halloween!

RIP Michael Clarke Duncan

This one hit me kinda hard because I always liked this guy. Actor Michael Clarke Duncan has passed away from complications of a heart attack suffered almost two months back. He was way too young at 54.

Whether you know him as Bear from Armageddon, or his classic role as John Coffy in Stephen King’s The Green Mile, or my favorite, crossing color lines as the villainous Kingpin in Daredevil, Michael Clarke Duncan was a phenomenal actor whose talent and presence was hard to match. A sad passing, the man will be missed.

The Last Airbender

The Last Airbender ~ Long before a friend turned me on to the beautifully animated TV series, I saw large chunks of this movie while on a cruise. You know how television on a cruise ship is like half a dozen movies on a continuous loop? This was one of them. I was unimpressed.

At the time, I had no foreknowledge of “Avatar” or bending or any of the mythology involved. I was bored by many undialogued scenes, cool special effects but without substance, and what seemed like a lot of spiritual mumbo jumbo and clever subtext that I just didn’t understand. Pretentious was the word I was looking for. And I was bored by it. If memory serves, I actually found Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time more interesting.

Of course the other factor at work here is M. Night Shyamalan. I love M. Night. I even have loved M. Night after it was uncool to love, or even like, him any more. When the critics turned on him and left to drown in low box office and derivative stories I loved the guy. I even dug Lady in the Water, but even I was let down by The Happening. And though he only directed, produced, and wrote the screenplay for this one, I was hopeful this would not continue the critic’s curse. It sure didn’t seem like it from what I saw however.

In the pre-“Legend of Korra” excitement, and having also watched a dozen or so episodes of the original series too, I decided to give the feature film another shot. The first thing that struck me about The Last Airbender is the somberness of it, the almost lack of humor. That said, it is respectful of the source material, but almost too much so. It’s like M. Night wants so badly to give it a serious treatment, he forgets it’s a story about kids, he forgets to have fun. This is just not about childlike wonderment, it’s about being a kid too, despite the world it takes place in.

The Last Airbender also has something in common with many of the films made from Stephen King books. If you have read the books, you already know what the characters are thinking and feeling so you dismiss any absence of same on the screen. This also works with this movie, having seen the source material. This is why it felt so empty the first time I saw it, but on more recent viewing, I understood it.

The two hour movie is essentially shorthand, or Cliff’s Notes if you will, of the fifty plus episodes of the animated series, or the first third of them at least. M. Night strives to keep a lot of it in, even when it has lost its context. It’s a lot of tell over show, and any writer will explain its the other way around. Much is lost by M. Night being meticulous. Without knowing ahead of time what is what, the film becomes a convoluted mess.

Despite all that, the second time around I enjoyed the film quite a bit. There are some wonderful visuals, some that I wouldn’t have thought this director capable of, but again, it’s not the animated series, but it tries in its own way. And in that way, The Last Airbender is a great companion piece to “Avatar,” just not alone.

Ray Bradbury Is Dead

Ray Bradbury is dead. That is the news I woke up to this morning. I still can’t believe it is real.

Recently, with so many pop culture deaths, I have had to write more than a few memorial pieces here on the blog. A dear friend told me just a few weeks ago I was very good at it. I would like to do the same here for this man I admire so much, but I can’t. I just can’t. I have no words. Other folks will have to do it for me, as they have done here.

Again, I have no words. People often talk of the day that Bill Haley died, or when John Lennon was shot, or when Kurt Cobain took his own life, as the day the music died. This is the day of no words.

The man was an inspiration, a genius, a forefather, an icon, perhaps one of the best writers of our time. I could read Bradbury’s work over and over again and always get enjoyment and wonder, and still learn from it on each reading. His words made me think. I could say that Harlan Ellison and Stephen King made me want to write, but Ray Bradbury made me want to read.

Ray Bradbury is dead. Today is a day without words.

RIP Richard Dawson

Television and film actor, singer and Emmy-winning game show host Richard Dawson passed away last night due to complications of esophageal cancer. He was 79.

Besides appearing in numerous television shows, including a six-year run on “Hogan’s Heroes,” Dawson is probably best known as the host of “Family Feud,” where his friendly attitude toward the ladies resulted in what is estimated 20,000 kisses. Dawson eventually even married one of the female contestants.

Besides “Feud,” he was also a frequent panelist on “Match Game,” and his most infamous film role was his last in 1987 as the evil game show host Killian in The Running Man. We have lost one of television’s most beloved entertainers.